NFL Betting Guide: Week 18
Do you think you know a lot about NFL football? Try regularly picking five games against the spread.
Even with all the information and advanced stats, elite sports bettors are lucky to get about 53% to 54% of -110 (even probability) bets correct. It's essentially flipping a coin.
That being said, people -- myself included -- try. There are plenty of contests, media personalities, and other casual games at work or with friends that pick five games each week against the spread to see how they fare.
Using NFL odds from FanDuel Sportsbook, here are my five picks against the spread and a couple of totals I like this week. Play or fade as you please.
Week 17 Recap
Last Week: 2-3
Year-to-Date Record: 44-40-1 (52.4%)
Week 17 was better, so I don't want to complain about some rotten luck.
The Broncos and Packers were pretty much no-sweat covers, but unfortunately, the winning week was lost on a Skylar Thompson meaningless backdoor. Oof. The Falcons also didn't actively try to score the touchdown we needed to cover, but so is the risk of laying points.
Thankfully, I'll avoid Houston this week to cap a miserable season betting on them, and both totals were -- surprisingly -- duds given the temperament of the games. Indianapolis doesn't have a real coach, so they burst the under despite scoring just six points. My bad. Stunningly, Chicago also didn't score in the second half to make that total a one-point loser.
Through a clunky finish, we're still guaranteed a third straight winning year should I avoid an 0-5 plunge this weekend. That isn't a test, gambling gods.
Pick #1: Ravens (+7.0) at Bengals
In light of the tragic and unfortunate circumstances this past Monday, we don't know exactly what this game means, but it means something to both teams, and this is a solid Ravens team to give this many points.
Since acquiring Roquan Smith in Week 9, Baltimore has ceded -0.01 Offensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play on defense. That's the third-best mark in the NFL during that time. This is an elite defense to give points.
It's looking like Tyler Huntley should start again this weekend, and that's not been good so far, but I have some confidence in him here. He's faced Denver and Pittsburgh with T.J. Watt in three of his five key appearances, and the game against Cleveland was played in frigid, awful conditions. Against Atlanta, he posted a modest 0.07 Passing NEP per drop back, which ranked 14th for the week among qualifiers.
This Cincinnati defense is pretty average across the board, per our nERD rankings. In decent but chilly weather, it's probably the second-fairest matchup for Huntley to date, and Mark Andrews' reemergence last week should only help. I think this one stays tight.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Bengals 22-17
Pick #2: Patriots (+7.0) at Bills
Are we really giving Bill Belichick a touchdown in a must-win game? Moreover, are 47% of bettors really laying it?
Obviously, the Bills will be playing with heavy hearts this weekend, so I get emotionally backing them. From a process play perspective, this is taking numberFire's top overall defense -- with seven touchdowns scored this season -- and the points.
Plus, Josh Allen is one that can aid in the variance needed for an inferior Patriots offense to cover. He's got 13 interceptions and 5 lost fumbles this year. It's a big reason why the 12-3 Bills are 6-8 against the spread (ATS).
Systematically, a majority of the cash (71%) is on the under here, too. Those fixed points with New England become inherently more valuable if the total falls below what is projected.
This is a tougher line to lay for some because Buffalo has a +51 point differential in their last four against New England. Maybe I'm stepping right into a sharp trap, but it's one I can sleep easily losing provided it came with this defense and that key 7.5-point number.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Bills 20-16
Pick #3: Rams (+6.5) at Seahawks
From here, two of the three teams will fit a key trend to remember when betting on final week games. Eliminated teams versus teams in must-win scenarios have covered at a 62% clip in the past 32 years, which is a sample of 105 games. The Browns, at an iffy number of 2.5 points, would be a third. I'll pass.
The Rams have been left for dead for weeks, and they showed it with a humiliating loss to Los Angeles as the "road" team in their own building last week. This is one final rallying cry against a longtime division foe, though.
Plus, Baker Mayfield is still auditioning for a starting job somewhere else. To me, though, the story is Cam Akers and the L.A. rushing attack. They've posted 0.11 Rushing NEP per carry in the past five weeks, which is the fifth-best mark in that time. They can bully a Seattle rush defense that numberFire ranks as the sixth-worst in the NFL.
Throughout all of their struggles, L.A. has also maintained a midpack defense (17th) in our nERD ranks. That'll be a decent test for a Seattle offense that could be missing Tyler Lockett due to a leg injury. They struggled badly (-0.10 Offensive NEP per play) in Kansas City without him.
The Rams covered this number with John Wolford a few weeks ago. Fitting into the trend, I'll take the points again.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Seahawks 23-19
At home, the Jaguars are being coronated as the eventual champions since Tennessee has lost six games in a row and now is without Ryan Tannehill for the season. How is this line short of a touchdown? That should be our first clue.
Realistically, I expect the Titans' best punch in weeks here in a must-win contest. Not only can their defense, which is a respectable 15th in numberFire's power rankings, put together a better effort than the 428 yards of offense they allowed to the Jags in Nashville, but Joshua Dobbs might save their offense.
Against a strong Dallas defense, Dobbs put together -0.12 Passing NEP per drop back. That's not good, but Malik Willis is at -0.55 for the season. That's a relative upgrade by any measure, and now, the former Volunteers signal-caller leaps from our fifth-best pass defense (Dallas) to our sixth-worst (Jacksonville).
Derrick Henry has historically pummeled the Jags. Mike Vrabel is a historically great underdog. This is too many points to give them in a winner-take-all bout. I'll sprinkle the moneyline here beyond this contest pick.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Titans 19-17
Most will flock to the underdog Dolphins in a win-and-in scenario here. After all, the Jets have nothing to play for after last week's clunker in Seattle. That trend, though, speaks to these eliminated teams typically being adjusted against too heavily.
In any other week, New York would be an immense value at this number. Per our nERD ranks, they've got numberFire's 2nd-best defense, and Miami's got our 10th-worst.
Despite last week's poor showing, Mike White (-0.02 Passing NEP per drop back) is undoubtedly a massive advantage over Skylar Thompson (-0.25) or Teddy Bridgewater with a broken pinky finger, too. Plus, New York's 19th-ranked rushing offense, in our same rankings, still outweighs the Dolphins' mediocre 23rd-ranked attack.
Miami has dropped five in a row entering a game with their third-string quarterback. That's exactly the same scenario as Tennessee, who also draws a worse defense. Yet, the public is leaving the Titans for dead and buying the Dolphins. Why? Motivation combined with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle? Wideouts don't impact the games that much.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Jets 23-16
Totals of the Week
Pick #1: Buccaneers at Falcons (Over 40.5)
Even with Blaine Gabbert, this talented Buccaneers offense -- even to its backup wideouts like Russell Gage and Scotty Miller -- can score on the dismal Falcons, who have nothing to play for. Atlanta is numberFire's 2nd-worst pass defense and 11th-worst rush defense.
Plus, if Brady and other key players rest, that'll likely include Tampa veterans like Tevita Vea, Devin White, and Carlton Davis on defense. Atlanta's offense also has at least one guy with motivation: Desmond Ridder. Atlanta could turn their projected top pick into a quarterback if Ridder (-0.05 Passing NEP per drop back) remains unimpressive.
With the fastest average situation-neutral pace of any game this weekend, this game -- in a dome -- also has two quarterbacks prone to mistakes. That even applies to Brady (13 turnovers) for as long as he plays. Just like the numerous sharps who've laid 65% of the cash on this side despite it getting just 35% of bets, I see this total as way too low.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Falcons 24-20
Pick #2: Bears at Vikings (Under 43.5)
I just can't fathom this total. It's my favorite of the two -- which isn't an indictment on Tampa-Atlanta's.
Chicago couldn't score this year without Justin Fields. I know it was one game against a tough Jets defense, but this is an offensive line, now installing Nathan Peterman, that cedes a 27% pressure rate. Peterman's leading receiver to work with on Sunday will be tight end Cole Kmet (487 receiving yards this year).
If this was a high-octane offense reliably with Fields, I'd be more hopeful. However, for example, they just scored 10 points on Detroit's awful defense last week. Minnesota's defense isn't great, but their better area has been against the rush. numberFire ranks them 14th in that domain.
If they can bottle David Montgomery, I can't see the Bears tangibly putting up points. The Vikings' offense is explosive, but they're almost assuredly locked into the three seed with both Philadelphia and San Francisco positioned as 14-point favorites.
Pros love this number, too. 59% of bets are on the over, but 64% of the money is on the under. I couldn't agree more -- especially with Minnesota potentially pulling starters late.
Swami Swaim's Score Prediction: Vikings 21-13